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    « Fiona McLeod | Main | Keith Mason »

    Wine encounters in London

    Wendler in London ... Cruising Gordon's Wine Bar, Penfolds Wine Lounge and a Russian oligarch's lavish venture, Hedonism Wines ... Unfortunately, the Stinking Bishop was missing 

    Dr. Johnson's indefatigable biographer, the Scotch barrister James Boswell, complained to the great lexicographer that he felt a disconnection with Scotland and was, with some reservation, contemplating domicile in London.

    "If I were to reside in London the exquisite zest with which I relished it in occasional visits might go off and I might grow tired of it."

    Johnson famously replied:

    "Why, Sir, you find no man at all intellectual who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford."

    I don't expect I will ever tire of visiting London - one of the world's most important and fascinating cities.

    From my most recent trip there I have three disparate wine encounters to report. They comprise my regular visit to Gordon's Wine Bar, discovery of the Penfolds Wine Lounge and inspection of Hedonism Wines, the most extraordinary wine and spirit emporium in Europe.

    Gordon's is the oldest wine bar in London. Since 1890 it has been selling wine, port, sherry and madeira in the same cellar located on the Thames Embankment.

    Rudyard Kipling and G.K. Chesterton, the inventor of fictional detective Fr. Brown, episodically practised their literary business there.

    Gordon's insinuates a Dickensian atmosphere offering an eclectic range of wines from Europe, the Americas, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa - even India and Lebanon.

    Argentinean Malbec and Chilean Sauvignon Blanc appear to be the top sellers.

    Australian wine on offer is by Yalumba and Peter Lehmann. I noticed a claret called "Boundary Line Shiraz " - a wine I had never heard of. Information on the label suggested it was bulk Australian red wine bottled in Germany!

    Each day there is a delicious, although limited, selection of home cooked hot dishes served from a buffet. Gordon's cheese board comprises a wide variety from France, Italy, Spain and English regional artisan cheeses.

    On my visit they had unfortunately sold out of "Stinking Bishop" a wonderfully pungent Perry washed soft rind cheese from Gloucestershire.

    When in London a lunchtime visit to historic Gordon's is worth the effort. Take the Tube and get off at Embankment station, its 3mins walk from there.

    Walking along The Strand on the way to purchase a new bar shirt and wing collar at Ede & Ravenscroft in Chancery Lane I happened upon a conspicuous Penfolds logo on the street windows of the ME Hotel.

    I discovered Penfolds celebrated its 170th anniversary by entering into a joint venture with the Spanish Melia International Hotel chain to open a wine lounge in London dedicated to showcasing its range.

    Penfolds ME London wine lounge

    The wine list invites a selection of white and red Penfolds' wines including the 2009 Grange Hermitage at an astonishing £1,286 a bottle. 

    Last year, by invitation, I sampled the 2009 Grange at Langton's launch of its sixth edition catalogue of the classification of Australian wines. The 2009 Grange is a high alcohol, high extract, mother of all fruit bombs.

    It has potential to become one of the very great Granges but will require many years of cellaring to achieve balance. If you are intending to purchase a special celebration wine to be opened in 20 years or more, 2009 Grange is the wine for you.

    My final wine encounter occurred in provocatively named Hedonism Wines, a bottle shop in fashionable Mayfair - an Aladdin's Cave of spirits, champagne and wines from  around the world established by former Russian oligarch Yevgeny Chichvarkin. 

    Yevgeny Chichvarkin in his hedonistic cellar

    The story goes that Chichvarkin, about to be arrested for phoney kidnapping offences, sensibly calculated that the rule of law in Russia was titular, or worse, precipitating his rapid departure from Moscow to London.

    He was tried in absentia and acquitted. He does not anticipate ever returning to Russia. He sold his mobile phone empire for $400 million and then eventually moving into high end wine retailing.

    Hedonism Wines is an ultra modern wine shop built on two levels at a cost of over £2 million.

    Chichvarkin, a man of easy and unpretentious manner, is equally happy to sell a customer a bottle of wine for £20 or £20,000.

    If you have a lazy £98,000 to spend you can leave the store with a rare bottle of Ch. d'Yquem from the renowned Comet vintage of 1811, regarded by some wine critics as the greatest desert wine ever made - although it is argued Imperial Tokay Essenzia of the same year is a more interesting desert wine.

    Many famous back vintages of Bordeaux and Burgundy are available, such as 1945, 1947, 1949, 1959, 1961, 1978 and 1982.

    I noticed a number of Samanazar (equivalent to 12 bottles) and Nebuchadnezzer (equivalent to 20  bottles) bottles of wine for sale and asked the store attendant whether there was much call for such monster sized bottles - colloquially referred to in Australia as "upmarket goons".

    "Oh yes sir, they are very popular with the aristocracy during the shooting season. They drink half one day the other half the next." 

    It's a wonder there were not more hunting accidents in the Old Dart.        

    G.D. Wendler - barrister-in–the-field

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